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Do Dogs Sleepwalk? Understanding Canine Nocturnal Behaviors - PawSafe

Do Dogs Sleepwalk? Understanding Canine Nocturnal Behaviors

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

do dogs sleepwalk

Have you ever watched your dog twitching in their sleep and wondered if they could be sleepwalking? Much like humans, dogs experience various sleep stages, including the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) stage, where dreaming occurs. During REM sleep, it’s common for dogs to exhibit movements such as twitching their legs or flicking their ears, which might make you think they’re sleep walking, but this behavior is typically just a physical response to a dream.

Understanding your dog’s sleep patterns is essential to determine if what you’re observing could be a sleep disorder. Sleep disorders in dogs can manifest in different ways, and while sleepwalking as we know it in humans is rare in dogs, they can experience other sleep-related disorders. To better address your curiosity, this article will look to research on sleep disorders in dogs, exploring various sleep behaviors and what they might mean for your furry friend’s well-being.

You might notice your dog twitching or moving their legs during sleep and wonder if they’re sleepwalking. The condition you’ve observed is known as REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD). Unlike humans, dogs experience RBD during the REM phase of sleep, where typically, the body shouldn’t move due to muscle paralysis. However, if this paralysis is absent, your dog might physically act out their dreams, appearing as if they’re sleepwalking.

In dogs, RBD can be idiopathic, starting without a known reason commonly in younger canines, or secondary, linked to central nervous system diseases usually seen in older dogs. If your dog begins to show vigorous movements in their sleep, like running or paddling their legs, they might be having an RBD episode. These can sometimes look aggressive and may result in injury if not managed carefully.

If you’re noticing these behaviors, observing your pet’s sleep patterns and discussing the observations with your vet is a smart move. These behaviors might hint at an underlying neurological issue. While this might be alarming, it’s also key to note that unlike in humans, RBD in dogs has not been shown to precede neurodegenerative diseases.

Managing RBD might include medications such as clonazepam or melatonin, but their effectiveness can be inconsistent. Variations in how dogs process these drugs can influence their efficacy and can lead to tolerance over time.

When thinking about your pup’s nighttime behaviors, understanding their sleeping habits and what’s normal for them can be helpful. And don’t worry too much if you notice a little whimpering or paw paddling; they might just be chasing rabbits in their dreams. If you suspect more than just a dream, though, it never hurts to get a professional opinion.

Understanding Sleep in Dogs

Corgi dog sleeping

Before we explore the specifics, know that sleep in dogs is a complex process influenced by genetics and nutrition, affecting their health and behavior.

Canine Sleep Patterns

Like you, your dog goes through various stages of sleep, including light slumber and deep sleep. Typically, an adult dog sleeps 12-14 hours per day, while puppies and older dogs might sleep even more.

REM Sleep and Dreaming in Dogs

During REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, your dog may experience vivid dreams. Signs include jerky movements of their paws, as if running, or quick eye movements behind closed lids.

General Dog Behavior During Sleep

You may notice your dog twitch, growl, whimper, or even bark — common behaviors when they are dreaming or entering deeper stages of sleep.

Common Signs of Aging in Dogs

As dogs get older, changes in sleep patterns can be a sign of aging or cognitive decline. Be on the lookout for changes in sleep duration or disturbances, as they may indicate senility or other health issues.

Nutrition Impact on Sleep

What your dog eats can impact their sleep. Diets rich in fatty acids, particularly omega-3 fatty acids, and flavonoids may contribute to better sleep quality. Consider including foods or supplements that are high in these nutrients.

Sleep Disorders in Dogs

gold dog walking with eyes closed sleeping

Just like people, dogs can experience various sleep disorders that disrupt the quality of their sleep. One disorder that’s particularly interesting is narcolepsy, a condition that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden muscle weakness. In dogs, this can look like your pup suddenly collapsing into a deep sleep, even mid-activity. Research has linked this condition to genetic and developmental factors in canines.

Sleep apnea is another concern and it’s especially common in brachycephalic breeds, like Bulldogs or Pugs, due to their shorter airways. If you notice your dog snoring heavily or having breathing pauses during sleep, this could be a sign of sleep apnea. This condition not only disrupts sleep but can also lead to more serious health issues if left untreated.

Some dog owners might wonder if their dogs can experience something like sleepwalking. While there’s no solid evidence to suggest dogs sleepwalk in the same way humans do, they can exhibit behaviors like twitching or paddling their paws during sleep, which are normal and linked to dreaming.

Canine neurological disorders might also affect sleep patterns. If your dog seems to have trouble sleeping or experiences changes in sleep behavior, it’s worth a discussion with your vet.

Remember, just like with humans, a good night’s rest is crucial for your dog’s overall well-being. Ensuring they have a comfortable and safe sleeping environment can help promote better sleep, regardless of the occasional midnight twitch or daytime doze.

Sleepwalking in Dogs

When you think about sleep disturbances, you might not picture your dog pacing or moving oddly while seemingly asleep. Yet, dogs can exhibit sleepwalking behaviors similar to humans, which can be a fascinating but concerning topic for pet owners to explore.

Defining Sleepwalking in Dogs

Sleepwalking, or somnambulism, in dogs is a sleep disorder that can cause a dog to perform complex movements such as walking, vocalization, and other activities while in a sleep state. Unlike simple movements during dreams, sleepwalking dogs might appear awake but are actually not conscious or aware of their environment.

Observing Sleepwalking Behaviors

Your dog may display various unusual activities such as walking into walls, pacing back and forth, or even attempting typical daytime actions like trying to bury a bone—all while asleep. These types of behavior may indicate canine sleepwalking, especially if your dog seems confused or disoriented when they wake up.

Causes of Sleepwalking in Dogs

The exact causes of sleepwalking in dogs aren’t fully understood. It could be a neurological disorder, linked to genetic factors, or may be triggered by medical conditions. Sometimes, stress or environmental changes might trigger a sleepwalking episode. As a pet owner, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian if you suspect your dog is sleepwalking, to rule out underlying issues.

Identifying Sleepwalking Signs

Signs of dog sleepwalking can include atypical movements like panting, howling without obvious reason, or walking into furniture. Some dogs may even open their eyes during a sleepwalking episode. If your dog shows these signs, it’s important to protect them from injury and seek a veterinarian’s advice to determine if there’s a deeper medical or behavioral disorder at play.

Health Concerns and Sleepwalking

When your dog exhibits unusual behaviors like sleepwalking, it’s important to consider potential health risks and the need for a neurological evaluation. Managing these risks can prevent injury, and understanding the connection to cognitive or mental disorders can be crucial for your pet’s well-being.

Neurological Evaluation for Sleepwalking

If you think your dog might be sleepwalking, visiting a vet for a neurological examination is a wise first step. Dogs don’t commonly sleepwalk, but if they do, it could be a sign of an underlying neurological disorder. The vet might check for seizures or other medical issues that could cause similar symptoms.

Managing Sleepwalking Risks

To keep your sleepwalking dog safe, minimize potential hazards around their sleeping area. Remove sharp objects, avoid stairs, and ensure the area is secure to prevent your dog from wandering into danger. It’s similar to making sure a sleepwalking person doesn’t sleepwalk and pee in inappropriate places or put themselves at risk.

Cognitive and Mental Disorder Links

Just like in people, sleepwalking in dogs can sometimes be linked to cognitive or mental disorders. If your dog is stressed or experiences a behavioral disorder, this could manifest in abnormal sleep behavior. Keep an eye out for signs of cognitive decline or confusion.

Physical Impact of Sleep Deprivation

Lack of sleep can lead to sleep deprivation in your pet, which can aggravate both cognitive disorders and neurological issues. Prioritize creating a stress-free sleep environment for your dog. A good night’s rest is important to their overall health, and a regular sleep schedule can help manage or prevent sleepwalking episodes.

Veterinary Guidance and Treatment

When it comes to your dog’s nighttime activities, certain movements might be more than just dreams. Sometimes dogs can exhibit behaviors akin to sleepwalking, known as REM Sleep Behavior Disorder (RBD). If you’re noticing unusual movements during their sleep, it might be time to consider some guidance and treatment.

When to Consult a Veterinarian

If you observe your dog making vigorous movements while sleeping, it’s important to consult a veterinarian. Look for signs like twitching, paddling, or even growling that seem out of the ordinary for typical dreaming. Remember, getting veterinarian advice early on can ensure your dog’s well-being and help manage any underlying conditions.

Treatment and Management Strategies

Treatment for conditions like RBD in dogs might include medications, although options such as Clonazepam or melatonin have shown varied results. If a vet suggests medicine, knowing the right dosage and monitoring for tolerance is key. Since every dog responds differently, a vet may have to try different strategies to find what works best.

Dog Sleep Environment Optimization

Creating a calm and comforting sleep environment can help manage sleep disorders. Ensure your dog has a supportive and cozy dog bed away from loud noises or stressful situations. Sometimes, minor changes can have a significant impact on your dog’s sleep quality and can be a simple step towards better health.

Medicinal and Dietary Recommendations

While medications are on the table, speak with your vet about the possibility of dietary changes that could support your dog’s sleep. Supplements like omega-3 fatty acids can aid in overall health, while ingredients rich in flavonoids might offer some benefit. Also, consider discussing the role of high-quality, organic food in your dog’s diet for its potential positive effects.

Comparative Analysis

In this section, we’ll look at how sleepwalking shows up in both humans and dogs and the role genetics may play in both species.

Sleepwalking in Humans vs Dogs

Humans: If you’ve ever heard of someone sleepwalking, they’re likely a child or an adult, as it’s a condition found across the human population. Evidence suggests that during sleepwalking, certain areas of the brain function remain active, allowing a person to perform complex movements without full consciousness.

Dogs: Interestingly, dogs can also exhibit sleepwalking-like behavior. Sometimes, a dog might paddle their legs or twitch as if they’re on a dream adventure. However, the EEG and behavioural study of dogs indicates that their sleep and learning mechanisms can be complex and share similarities with humans.

Genetic Predisposition and Species

  • Humans: Genetics play a role in whether you might find yourself wandering around at night without knowing it. Some families have a history of sleepwalking, especially in children.
  • Dogs: In dogs, research is a bit less clear about the genetic ties. But just like in humans, it looks like some dogs might be more likely to get up to things in their sleep. The way their brain function parallels human sleep patterns suggests that there may be a genetic thread there as well.

The Bigger Picture

When you’re looking at your dog curled up and snoozing, it’s easy to wonder what’s going on in that furry head. Understanding your dog’s sleep behavior is not just about satisfying your curiosity, but it can also be a vital part of ensuring their overall well-being.

The Importance of Understanding Dog Sleep Behaviors

You might think your dog is just chasing rabbits in their dreams, but there’s a lot more to their sleep. Knowing how dogs cycle through phases of sleep, including deep sleep, can help you spot any unusual behavior that might be a sign of a problem, like sleep disorders. For instance, if your dog seems to be moving a lot during sleep, you might wonder if they’re sleepwalking. While dogs can experience muscle twitching during deep sleep, true sleepwalking is rare in dogs. On the other hand, learning and recognizing your dog’s normal sleep behavior can give you peace of mind.

How Quality Sleep Affects Overall Health

Good sleep is as important for your dog’s well-being as it is for yours. Just like in people, poor sleep in dogs can lead to issues with their physical body and mental health. A solid night of Z’s supports their brain function, muscle relaxation, and helps manage stress. So, if you want your furry friend to stay healthy and happy, make sure they have a comfy place to sleep, and keep bedtime consistent. It’s part of taking care of the whole package!

Role of Sleep in Growth and Development

Just like children, puppies need more sleep because it plays a crucial role in their growth and development. Your dog’s brain and body need that downtime to grow strong. Older dogs, much like the aging population, also need quality sleep to help their bodies recover and stay sharp. When you ensure your dog is getting the right amount of sleep, you’re supporting them at every stage of life.

Remember, paying attention to how your dog sleeps is not just about their sleep behavior; it’s about safeguarding their well-being. So, give your pup the best chance at a healthy life by keeping an eye on those snoozing habits.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

You might notice your dog exhibiting unusual behaviors during the night, which can raise concerns and questions about their health and wellbeing.

Why does my dog wander around at night?

Your dog may wander at night for various reasons, such as needing to go to the bathroom, hunger, or due to age-related cognitive decline. It might not necessarily imply a sleep disorder.

Can my dog have a sleep disorder that makes him walk while sleeping?

Dogs can have sleep disorders that could potentially lead to unusual nighttime activity. One disorder, canine parasomnia, might cause them to move in their sleep, similar to sleepwalking in humans.

Is it possible for dogs to have nightmares and act them out?

Yes, dogs can have nightmares. During the REM stage of sleep, they may twitch, paddle their legs, or even bark. If they appear to be acting out their dreams, this is usually normal.

Do other animals, like cats, also experience sleepwalking?

While sleep disorders can occur in many animals, sleepwalking is less commonly recognized in cats. Most animals do have a sleep cycle that could theoretically allow for sleep disturbances similar to those in dogs and humans.

Are dogs able to sleep with their eyes open or dream visibly?

Dogs usually sleep with their eyes closed. However, they can dream visibly, exhibiting movements like twitching, running, or whimpering. This involves harmless muscle spasms rather than actual sleepwalking.

Can my dog bark or make noise while sleepwalking?

While actual sleepwalking is rare in dogs, they can make noises or bark in their sleep during vivid dreams or in response to sleep disorders. If you’re noticing disturbed sleep in your dog, you should consult your vet.


When you notice unusual behaviors in your dog during the night, it might raise the question: do dogs experience sleepwalking? It’s not as common as in humans, but canine sleep disorders do occur. If your dog appears disoriented or clumsy after waking up, there could be various reasons, and what looks like sleepwalking might be one of them.

You should observe your dog’s behaviors: Do they seem to move aimlessly or bump into things? Are they responsive when you call their name? These behaviors could be related to sleep disturbances. Academic studies, like the one on sleep and learning in dogs, provide insight into canine sleep.

Remember, your dog can’t tell you they had a weird dream or felt groggy. That’s why, as their friend and caregiver, it’s important to keep an eye out for anything out of the ordinary. If you do suspect that your dog is sleepwalking, it’s a good idea to discuss these observations with your veterinarian. They can rule out other medical conditions and help ensure your furry pal is healthy and happy.

In short, you’re key to helping your canine buddy. If anything seems off with your pet’s sleep patterns, don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. By doing so, you’re ensuring that your dog gets the care they deserve, day or night.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.